In my decades of writing about weight loss and healthy eating, I’ve seen firsthand that just when you think you know everything about losing weight, new thinking in nutrition science turns out to prove you wrong.
Dr. Travis Stork Advice
That’s why I was so drawn to the advice my friend Dr. Travis Stork, co-host of The Doctors, shares in his new book, The Doctor’s Diet. If you’re confused about conflicting health headlines (eat this! No, wait, don’t eat that!), he shares some helpful perspective about hot-button nutrition controversies.
Here are three that have changed the way I think about my diet:
Can saturated fat be healthy?
For a long time, scientists believed saturated fat—the kind found in meat, full-fat cheese, butter, cow’s milk, ice cream, and palm and coconut oils—was a major cause of heart disease. But that belief has undergone a seismic shift recently.
The current thinking is that saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol, which is bad for your heart. But it also seems to raise HDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides, which is good for your heart. As a result, current research shows that saturated fat can have both a positive and negative impact on heart health.
Whether saturated fat is a better choice comes down to what you’re comparing it to. When people replace saturated fat with healthier unsaturated fats (found in fish, nuts, olive oil, avocado, etc.) it benefits their heart health.
But if they replace them with simple carbohydrates, trans fats, and other unhealthful foods, it’s harmful. Think of it this way: you’re better off eating salmon (rich in unsaturated fat) than steak (which contains saturated fat). However, you’re in an ideal situation eating steak than fried chicken that is breaded and cooked in shortening full of trans fats.
Artificial sweeteners help you weight loss, right?
You’d think that since they have not many or no calories, artificial sweeteners would help with weight loss. But some studies suggest that’s simply not the case. Guzzling diet soda is associated with an elevated risk of obesity and types 2 diabetes, a 2013 review of several studies in the journal Trends in Endocrinology concluded.
Researchers think artificial sweeteners trick your body into thinking it is consuming real sugar, which causes you to release insulin and store belly fat. Artificial sweeteners may also contribute to carbohydrate cravings.
Don’t sweat occasional consumption, it won’t kill you. But giving them up or cutting back helps reset your sense of taste so it’s back to normal, able to appreciate the natural tastes of whole foods rather than always demanding hyper-sweet, sugar-laden foods.
Should you eat low-fat or full-fat dairy?
Most nutrition experts recommend skim milk (whole milk with all its fat skimmed off). But there is a growing number of people who think we should give whole milk a second look. Here’s why: When you pour skim milk on your cereal, you are getting a lot of carbohydrates and some protein.
When you choose whole milk, you get the same amount of protein, but you also consume fewer carbohydrates because whole milk has more fat, which can also help curb your appetite.
Another regular contention against full-fat dairy is that the fat it contains is saturated (which we know is controversial).
In any case, new research proposes that when cows are allowed to graze on grass instead of highly processed, nutritionally deficient feed, their milk is more nutritious—and may even cut cardiac attack risk—when the fat is left in.
If all this leaves you scratching your head, don’t feel bad — I’m scratching mine too. I’m going to keep a close eye on the research. Dr. Stork’s recommendation for you is to go with what you like once you’ve reached your goal weight, but be conscious of calories and serving sizes if you go full-fat.